EDMONTON - Yes, they’re all a bunch of kids and no, they’re not all ready for prime time, but if you’re old enough to wear an Oilers logo on your sweater, even in a pre-season prospects tournament, you’re old enough to defend it.
So Tom Renney has one word of advice for Edmonton’s latest class of prospects when they take on their Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary counterparts at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton: Just Win, Babies.
“If you just go there and say, ‘Let’s go play and have some fun,’ you’re not giving yourself a chance to see who can separate themselves — the ultimate competitors from those who just want to participate,” said the Oilers head coach. “I hope that every single guy who puts the jersey on in the next week is desperate to win.”
Edmonton opens the five-day, five team tournament Sunday against Vancouver, as good a time as any for these kids to show what they’ve got.
This is where they take the first baby steps on the road to being an Oiler — the same ones Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi took last year.
“Now is when the challenge starts,” said centre Anton Lander, who’s trying to make the same jump that buddy and former Swedish Elite League teammate Paajarvi did last year. “If you play good you go to the next level (main camp). That’s how it works.”
The tournament could easily be mis-cast as a leisurely summer gathering similar to the half-speed abomination they played at the NHL All Star game.
Winger Curtis Hamilton knows from experience that it’s full speed and for keeps.
“It always brings out the best in guys,” he said. “There are a lot of free agents there trying to earn a contract, there are bigger guys whose job is fighting, so they’ll go out there and fight. Its competitive.”
For players who bring an edge to the rink, knocking Canucks, Flames and Jets prospects around is easier on the conscience than putting a hurt on your own guys.
“Its good to have competition against other teams because then you don’t feel as bad if you’re playing physical,” said defenceman Colten Teubert, the former first round pick acquired in the Dustin Penner trade. “When you’re playing physically against your own teammates, sometimes it’s difficult.”
For Renney, Penticton offers a glimpse of a player’s intangibles as much as his physical tools.
“This process will illuminate what some can do and where others are deficient,” he said. “Its great to see how they do with the instinctive part of the game, how they think the game.”
Penticton will be like the first round of a major championship in golf — you can’t win a job this week, but you can certainly lose one. If you can’t stand out against prospects, why should they believe you can do the job against NHLers?
Hall, for example, didn’t make the Oilers in Penticton, but his play here gave him serious momentum coming into camp.
“Obviously we wanted to get him back in the mix and playing the (NHL) exhibition games,” said Renney. “Inasmuch as you had an inkling in Penticton, you still had to curb your enthusiasm and recognize that it is about a process and this time around is no different.”
Lander, who’s been given all kinds of scouting reports from his buddy Paajarvi, can’t wait to begin the journey himself.
“I heard last year was really fun, a lot of hard games, a really good experience,” he said. “I’m really excited.”